Virgin Galactic’s commercial spacecraft has taken another huge step toward space tourism. The SpaceShipTwo, or SS2, successfully completed its second supersonic test flight above the Mojave Desert Thursday, Discovery News reported.
The SS2 reached a maximum speed of Mach 1.43, or about 1,088.52 mph, and a maximum altitude of 69,000 feet, which is the highest the spacecraft has ever traveled. “We couldn’t be more delighted to have another major supersonic milestone under our belts as we move toward a 2014 start of commercial service,” Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson said in a blog post.
The suborbital spacecraft was carried to an altitude of 46,000 feet by the WhiteKnightTwo, or WK2, aircraft. At that point, the SS2’s hybrid rocket engine kicked in and the craft began flying on its own. The engine stayed on for 20 seconds, pushing the vehicle to 69,000 feet.
The spacecraft’s two pilots were the only people aboard to enjoy the ride. But the SS2 is designed to eventually carry six passengers along with the two pilots.
The spacecraft’s pilots -- Mark Stucky and Clint Nichols -- were also able to test the vehicle’s “feathering re-entry system” for the first time Thursday. Stucky and Nichols are both affiliated with Scaled Composites, the aerospace manufacturer founded by the legendary Burt Rutan and now owned by the Northrop Grumman Corp. (NYSE:NOC) that designed the SS2.
The goal of the designers is to eventually leave the SS2’s rocket engine burning for 70 seconds until it hits 2,500 mph and a maximum altitude of 364,000 feet, according to CNet.
The privately held Virgin Galactic LLC has reported that 625 tickets -- at $250,000 a pop -- have already been sold for the spacecraft’s first series of space flights.
You can watch Branson’s commentary on the test flight below: